Comic Strip Review: Gunnerkrigg Court, Volume 3: Reason

Comic Strip Review: Gunnerkrigg Court, Volume 3: Reason by Thomas Siddell

After Antimony “Annie” Carver’s mother Surma dies, her father Anthony drops her off at her parent’s alma mater, a strange boarding school called Gunnerkrigg Court.  The court is an enormous place, looking rather like an industrial city, but large portions of it seem to be abandoned…by humans, at least.  There are robots advanced beyond anything in the outside world, bizarre events are commonplace, there’s a creepy forest just across a long bridge students are forbidden to cross, and Annie notices that she’s picked up a second shadow.

Gunnerkrigg Court, Volume 3: Reason

This noted fantasy webcomic has been running since 2005, beginning here (happily, the art style drastically improves over time.)  It’s got an intricate plot with many details planned well in advance.  (For example, in an early strip Antimony tells us it will be two years before she sees her father again.)  The Court’s architecture is somewhat based on the city of Birmingham in England.

At the beginning of this volume, Annie is in training to possibly become the Court’s Medium, an ambassador between the school and the magical Gillitie Wood.  The other two candidates, Andrew Smith (with the ability to bring order out of chaos) and George Parley (whose father expected a boy, and has the gift of teleportation) argue a lot but turn out to be attracted to each other.  This interrupts two simulations.

Then it’s time for a camping trip to a park that is actually inside the boundaries of Gunnerkrigg Court.  Campers start to disappear, and Annie and her best friend Kat (Katherine Donlan, daughter of two of the teachers who were friends with Annie’s parents) must solve the mystery.

After that, Kat, who is beloved by the Court’s robots due to her technical skills and repair abilities grants the king of said robots access to the portrait of Jeanne, the ghost that haunts the ravine between the Court and the Wood.  In return, he reveals the existence of a robot that has memories of Jeanne, and the very early days of the Court.  Those memories reveal a dark secret of the past.

In the next chapter, Annie visits the Wood and learns more about Ysengrim, the wolf with tree armor that is the current Medium for their side of the river.  Coyote, the trickster spirit that is in charge of the Wood, gives Annie a gift for reasons not fully revealed.

Then the subplot of Jack, who’s been acting increasingly erratic since he was exposed to the mass hallucination projected by a girl named Zimmy, comes to the fore.  He coerces Annie into accompanying him to a power station that might have something to do with why he can’t sleep.

This is followed by a spotlight chapter for Kat, who hasn’t been able to process her emotional reaction to learning what the Court did to Jeanne.  She’s finally able to recover her equilibrium with the help of an abandoned baby bird, and Paz, a classmate who can talk to animals.

Further research with the help of Andrew and Parley reveals some of Jeanne’s story from her point of view, and convinces Parley to be honest about her feelings.

Finally, Annie’s second year at Gunnerkrigg Court comes to a painful close when she and Renard (a fox spirit living in a stuffed toy) quarrel and reveal some very painful secrets to each other.  This leads to her choosing to spend the summer in the Wood rather than with friends.

At the end are some art pages and bonus strips about “City Face”, the pigeon Kat rescued.

The mood swings wildly between chapters, some being very comedic while others go deep into dark territory.  While we get several important revelations in this volume, the jigsaw nature of the overall plot means that many items don’t pay off until future volumes–I do recommend starting from the beginning.

As is often the case with webcomics collections, the material is all available on the internet for free, but if you like it, please consider buying the print version to make the creator more financially stable.

Book Review: Cowman’s Jack-Pot

Book Review: Cowman’s Jack-Pot by Frank C. Robertson (Also published as Greener Grows the Grass)

Chet Calder has spent eight years in the East.  Now the death of his father Dave Calder, and the crash of the stock market mean that there’s nothing left but the DC ranch.   On the stage into Calder City, Chet is seated by Mr. Doljack, the local banker.  Mr. Doljack reports that even the ranch itself is in dire financial straits, but it can be saved by ending the feud with the Murtaugh family and their Block M ranch by leasing some prime grazing land to them.

Cowman's Jackpot

Chet distrusts Mr. Doljack, who only owns the bank by virtue of having married the previous owner’s daughter.   But then who should just happen to be taking the Calder City stagecoach but Sylvia and Esta, the Murtaugh twins, who have filled out very nicely since Chet’s been away.  They are quite charming, and Chet begins to think it might not be so bad to end the feud after all.

Frank Chester Robertson (1890-1969) was a noted writer of Western novels (150 novels! plus many short stories and articles.)  This 1942 book is a good example of his craft.

Unlike many Westerns in which the protagonist is an upstanding fellow from the beginning, Chet Calder is initially a heel.  He has been away so long because he quarreled with his father over a gold-digging woman, only to have her throw him over when Dave wrote her a check.   Since then he’s been a “sportsman”, living off his father’s money while doing nothing to earn his own way or improve himself.  The Nineteenth Century equivalent of sitting around in your underwear all day playing video games, but with better chances of scoring women.

His financial circumstances having forced him to come back to the Idaho Territory irks Chet, and he treats his father’s old hands like servants, and his pride makes him snide to girl next door Marcia Whitman, who Mr. Doljack has informed him has become greedy.  None of the DC Ranch people are happy that Chet plans to make nice with the Murtaugh clan and hold a lavish party for the enemy ranchers.

Only after Chet has managed to alienate most of the people who should be his allies, while winning over none of his enemies, does he realize that he was set up from the start.  Now he has to start digging himself out of the hole he made.

Other than Chet, the lines of good and evil are pretty clearly drawn.  The Murtaughs have been poisoned by their upbringing and the long feud.  (And in an unpleasantly racist moment, the narration blames some of their evil on being of part-Cree heritage.)  One of them kills a cat just to drive home that he’s a bad’un.  Mr. Doljack is greedy and amoral (and lives in fear of his supposedly grotesquely ugly wife, who we never meet), and the other co-conspirators aren’t much better.

While the Murtaughs just want to make their Block M ranch prosperous and stick it to Chet, the other baddies are more interested in huge phosphate deposits Marcia’s father found on the DC land.  A decade before, those deposits had been unimportant, but with technological and infrastructure advancements, they’re worth millions.  Mr. Doljack is determined to get control of the mineral rights before Chet can find out their true value.

The primary weakness of the forces arrayed against Chet Calder is that their differing motivations and willingness to maneuver against each other to gain advantage or advance their own endgame results in some backstabbing that Chet can take advantage of.

Mr. Robertson has a tendency to repeat information he’s already established, and cheats a bit at the end to make sure that our heroes triumph without actually having to kill anyone.   But still, this is a nice old-fashioned Western tale for those who prefer their stories in black and white.  The last reprint appears to have been in the 1970s so good luck finding a copy.

Book Review: The 36 Ancient Chinese Strategies for Modern Business

Book Review: The 36 Ancient Chinese Strategies for Modern Business by Lan Bercu

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

The 36 Ancient Chinese Strategies for Modern Business

Beginning some time in the late 1970s, when it became obvious that Japan had become an economic powerhouse, American businesses began taking an interest in Asian philosophies that might explain why companies from those areas were doing so well, especially in industries where America was faltering.   Thus, books for business explicating on The Five Rings, The Art of War and so forth have been written and often sold well.

This is the latest book in that tradition.  The author was born and raised in Vietnam, where The 36 Strategies, a text on warfare believed to have been compiled during China’s Warring States period, is read by schoolchildren.  She has since found the information included helpful in her career as a speaker on business and international matters.

The main text is divided into thirty-six short chapters, one for each strategy.  Each starts with a short story about ancient Chinese warfare, then one or more examples of how modern businesses have implemented these strategies, whether by name or by chance.  This is followed by translation into more basic tips, and questions for the business to ask itself based on the strategy.

Some of the strategies have poetic sounding titles, like “slough off the cicada’s golden shell” or “borrow a corpse to resurrect a soul”, while others are more plain-spoken, like “kill with a borrowed knife.”   The strategies themselves, however, tend to be simple to understand, if sometimes difficult to apply to a given situation.  That last bit is why they’re arranged by type; some are better when you have a clear advantage, others when you’re on the defensive or in a losing position.

It should be noted that the more literal applications of some of these strategies to business, such as “replace the beam with rotted timbers” and “deck the tree with false blossoms” may be considered unethical, and in some cases are outright illegal.  The author points out that businesses (and customers) should be aware of these strategies anyway, to help defend against them.

The short chapters and copious examples make this a good read for the busy person on the go; this is one time I would suggest buying the e-book version.  The book comes with an ad for the author’s services, bibliography and an index.

The utility of this book will depend on whether you already have another of the books relating the 36 strategies to business.  If so, you may not need this one.  This book also has a lot of synergy with The Art of War, so you may want to invest in one of the business books that concentrate on that text as well.

In war, do not repeat the tactics that have gained you one victory.  Rather, let your methods be determined by the infinite variety of circumstances. — Sun Tzu

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